Processional of the Damned

Hidden in a far corner of the Accursed Demesne, the Processional of the Damned is a cursed place where even the most intrepid explorers fear to tread. Through the centuries only a handful of Imperial ships have visited it and returned, it has earned a strange and dire reputation among the inhabitants of the Expanse. Stories tell of a place where death holds court over a limitless flotilla of ancient, desiccated vessels and ruinous mouldering worlds, each drawn across the reaches of space by a deep and slumbering evil. A ship’s graveyard of more than a million-million vessels, the Processional is a tempting target for scavengers and treasure hunters, and every few decades an expedition from Footfall sets off into the dark with dreams of fortune and glory. Those few that do return bring back terrible tales of death and malign mystery, but also enough wealth to tempt others to try their luck, and so the Processional is never short of willing sacrifices

An Alien Intelligence

How and why the Processional of the Damned came into being is unknown to mankind, or even to the myriad xenos races man has either dealt with or destroyed. If there are those who know this cursed place’s secrets, they are either long vanished or well hidden. What is known is the star at the centre of the Processional—a writhing, flickering mass of dark matter—has some kind of pull within the warp, and dead ships, their crews long since perished, are drawn in to join the vast rings of wrecks in its orbit. Such is the power of the Processional that even dead worlds are not outside its grasp and several blasted, crumbling planetoids jostle for positions amongst the sea of space hulks.

Over the centuries, scattered Imperial explorers have visited the Processional, from lowly pirates and adventurers to noble Rogue Traders. Most never returned, claimed by accident, treachery, or something worse. However, the writings of Wrath Umboldt, captain of the Righteous Crusader and the first Rogue Trader to find the Processional and return, do catalogue the edges of the system and build a sketchy picture of the terrible forces at work within the wreck rings. What these titbits of information seem to reveal suggests strange powers at work within the Processional. From lengthy readings, Umboldt determined patterns in the ebb and flow of the space hulks, some being drawn closer, some being pushed away. His men also claimed that the closer the ships were to the star, the more decayed and ancient they seemed, even though markings from some ships revealed some closer vessels were of more recent manufacture than those further out. All of this seems to point to some kind of power at work, a power that grows in strength the closer travellers get to the centre of the Processional.

Over the years, a range of theories have developed amongst those few with access to the details of the Processional. Most of these are little more than hypothetical meanderings, posited by those who never actually visited the cursed place. Other such authors may have dispatched hirelings to investigate further or test the veracity of their theories, damning thousands of souls to their doom. One theory suggests that the processional exists in many different times simultaneously, with explorers crossing from one time to the next as they near the dark star in its centre. A variation on this theory suggests that time speeds up, relative to the outside universe, the closer the observer is to the centre. Thus, an explorer near the star might occupy a point in time many thousands of years into the future, while one at the edges would occupy the present. Several savants of the Ordo Calixis have, according to whispers, been driven to madness attempting to decipher this riddle. Others claim that the dark star is in fact some form of alien life, or a previously unheard-of type of black hole. One theory even suggests that it is a brooding shadow of something that exists out of phase with this dimension, but that is nonetheless nearby.

These attempts to comprehend the Processional are somewhat frustrated by some of Umboldt’s writings, recorded long after he returned from his accursed voyage. It is evident that something terrible occurred during Wrath’s exploration, something neither he nor those of his crew who returned ever made sense of. From the mad ravings of his own crew and the recorded visions of his astropaths, he seemed to have become convinced that the dark light at the centre of the Processional was in fact death itself, or perhaps some ancient xenos god of decay—slowly drawing the corpses of dead vessels into its cold embrace. Whatever the truth, Wrath never returned to the Processional and refused to reveal its location to others despite the treasures he recovered and vast sums offered.

Although Umboldt refused to speak of the Processional, his surviving crew brought back countless void-farers’ tales. Their stories soon spread from ship to ship, from port to port, until variations could be overheard in scum-bars the length and breadth of the Expanse. Such tales speak of a region haunted by the past and the future, where half-glimpsed spectres of things yet to come flit at the periphery of vision. They tell of vox-channels bursting into life as a hundred voices hail an explorer’s ship all at once, before abruptly cutting off to be replaced with cold, angry static. At other times, so they tell, voices whisper from the depths of the white noise of the vox-channels, only to fade away as the instruments are fine-tuned. Some men claimed they have seen long-lost loved ones, or other, hideous things, whilst traversing the outer limits of the system. Of those who have donned void-suits and left the safety of their ship only the most fortunate have returned sane.

Furthermore, there are dark and disturbing whispers suggesting that every peril, every voice, and every half-glimpsed figure is in fact some aspect of the dread evil that lurks at the heart of the system. Nothing happens by chance in the Processional, so the void-born claim, and no secret is unknown to that which lies at its centre.

One of the mysteries presented by the Processional is just where all of the dead vessels orbiting around its centre come from. While countless vessels have been lost to the Koronus Expanse, the numbers are not anywhere great enough to account for the space hulks found there. Some suggest the place is a resting ground for ships lost in the warp anywhere in the galaxy, as if it were some cosmic vent from which lost ships are expelled. Certainly, the warp is not subject to the laws that govern the material universe, and it is possible that a ship lost whilst traversing a route between two worlds on the other side of the galaxy could end up upon the dark shores of the Processional. Others claim that many of the wrecks are the corpses of vessels yet to be lost, echoes of future disasters.

Some obscure writings on the subject suggests the Processional might occupy a region where some terrible incident once occurred, and to a degree is still occurring. What atrocity might have caused such a phenomenon will likely never be discerned, but the ravings of madmen speak of deicide, and the laws of time and space being violated in the most despicable ways imaginable. They speak of entire civilisations, entire species, being tortured and sacrificed upon the alters of forbidden powers, unnameable gods, or forces old when the universe itself came into being.

The final clue comes from the Eldar. Though capricious and untrustworthy, some believe the ancient aliens know more about this place than anyone else. It is said that long before the coming of man to the Expanse, the Eldar were aware of the Processional, having tracked lost ships to its forsaken shores. What they found there was a creature with a connection to the fabric of fate itself, something of great interest to the Eldar farseers. This creation of fate beyond fate, or entropic spirit as the Eldar referred to it, was a sinkhole in reality and a dent in the fabric of time. If any of this is true or not, and whether the Eldar have any interest in the Processional, is not known for sure. However, the xenos have constructed a webway portal to connect it to their domains, indicating at least some importance placed upon this cursed system and its dead inhabitants.

Ghosts of the Deep

Despite the terrible nature of the Processional, a number of groups call this cursed place home. The first of these are known as Wrath’s Carrion. Descendants of the crew of Wrath Umboldt, left behind when their master fled back into the void, they survive by scavenging the outer regions of the Processional. Of this group very little is known, although a great many rumours and myths have sprung up amongst superstitious void-farers.

Some say that the Carrion are touched by the evil that haunts the Processional. Some claim that the Carrion are not men and women of flesh and bone at all, but ghostly spectres out of synch with the place in which they live. Other rumours state that the Carrion are all too real, yet they are held in thrall by some ancient evil, perhaps paying a penance for some ancient crime. What contact has occurred with the Carrion suggests that some of their number are indeed strangely distant in their mannerisms, as if barely able to register the presence of outsiders. Others long to escape whatever it is that holds others of their number enthralled, yet, for whatever reason, cannot break the hold of the Processional. These beg outsiders for deliverance from their dark realm, in person or over crackling vox-channels. Often, such transmissions are cut off without warning, as if some agency refuses to allow them to escape.

There are also the Hollow Men, normally only encountered deeper in the system. Very little is known about them, not even whether they are human, alien, or something else. It is generally accepted that the Hollow Men are scavengers, and that they cloak themselves in heavy void-suits, which they use to lurk amongst the wreckage of the space hulks, slowly breaking them down, one piece at a time, until nothing but a bare skeleton is left. The Hollow Men are an ever-present threat to any traversing the Processional. While they rarely move about openly, they are always there, at the periphery of vision and the far extent of a vessel’s sensors. They crawl across the wrecks as flies over a cadaver, and flit from one to the next when an explorer’s attentions are turned elsewhere. Sometimes, their presence can be detected by an increase in false augur returns, angry bursts of white noise over the vox-channels, or strange noises emanating from the vessel’s outer hull.

No one has ever been able to ascertain why the Hollow Men go about the perilous task of scavenging the wrecks of the Processional. The purpose of the Hollow Men in the Processional, as well as their origin, remains a mystery.

Finally the Processional, as can be imagined, is a fearfully haunted place. The warp has a strange relationship with the turbulent star and “things” are regularly seen by scavengers, either drifting between the space hulks or hiding in their holds. Some reports claim that people or vessels known to be alive and intact many light years away have been seen amongst the ruined space hulks, as if the witness is catching a glimpse of some terrible future fate. Others report their augurs returning errant signals as they pass through the debris fields, and even having vox-conversations with the crews of vessels they know to be long dead. Such conversations test the very sanity of those who penetrate the secrets of the Processional of the Damned.

The Solar Graveyard

The Processional of the Damned is a ship graveyard unsurpassed in size and scale. Larger than anything else ever encountered in the Expanse, it dwarfs the debris fields of the Battleground in the Maw or the ruined remains of the Al’terran Shipyards. Countless millions of kilometres across, it is a system of dead worlds and desiccated ships slowly orbiting a dark star in vast and fragmented circles. Despite its scattered and chaotic appearance the Processional has many documented layers; each wrapped protectively around the turbulent star at its centre. Each of these layers have their own distinctive character and present their own unique dangers.

The Damned Gateway

Though far from the edge of the Heathen Stars, the Processional of the Damned remains permanently linked to this distant place by an Eldar webway portal. It is not known whether or not the Eldar still make use of this portal, though it continues to function, fuelled by energies beyond the Imperium’s understanding.

The Fragmented Cloud

The outer edges of the Processional are known as the Fragmented Cloud, a region of smaller, broken vessels and twisted remains. There is little salvage to be had this far out, though it does make a good base from which to venture deeper into the system. It is also the haunt of the Carrion, marooned descendants of Wrath Umboldt’s crew.

Blight — The First World

The first of the three worlds trapped in the endless dance of the Processional, Blight is a dead and desiccated place. Hollowed out from within, like an apple devoured by worms, Blight is a honeycomb of ship-sized tunnels and crevasses, some clogged with the remains of vessels drawn in by its weak gravity. The Carrion routinely explore Blight for vessels that have drifted out of the Sea of Space Hulks, though even they remain wary this close to the edge, as the Hollow Men are also known to scavenge the dead world.

Outer Sea of Space Hulks

The bulk of the Processional is known as the Sea of Space Hulks, a region of space thick with the ruined remains of vessels of every manufacture, race or function drawn from across the Expanse and even out of the greedy clutches of the warp. Such is the scale of the Sea that to look upon it is enough to drive most explorers to despair as the endless tumbling shapes and broken debris fill their vision and choke their ship’s sensors. It would be possible to spend a hundred lifetimes exploring the Sea and scavenge only a handful of its vessels.

Decay — The Second World

Deep within the Sea of Space Hulks lurks the blasted world known as Decay. Smaller than Blight, it is more a moon than true world, hidden against the deeper darkness of the void by its stygian surface. It is only detectable by the weak light of the turbulent star or its faint gravity shadow. The Carrion tell any visitors to the Processional that Decay is home to the Hollow Men and best avoided.

Inner Sea of Space Hulks

The further one presses through the Sea of Space Hulks, the more apparent the effects of the turbulent star become and the more decayed and desiccated the space hulks appear. Few travellers venture this far, though stories persist of unique vessels and fabled treasure ships hidden within the inner rings of the Sea. However, accurate reports of this region are hard to come by and neither the Carrion nor the Hollow Men press far into the Inner Sea.

Oblivion—The Third World

There is a third and last world in the grip of the turbulent star, known only as Oblivion. Visible from the edges of the system only with powerful sensors and auspexes, practically nothing is known about Oblivion except that it is larger than both Blight and Decay and apparently has a dark, murky atmosphere. What lurks beneath its boiling grey clouds, however, remains a mystery.

The Carrion Deeps

Beyond Oblivion, the Sea thins out to almost nothing and the thick fields of wrecks and debris give way to scattered space hulks and blasted broken fragments. Rumours, mostly propagated by the Carrion, say that it is here that the greatest vessels are eventually drawn, close to the baleful light of the turbulent star. Such rumours are practically impossible to confirm or refute as no living soul has ever ventured into the Carrion Deeps and returned.

The Turbulent Star

In the centre of the system hangs the Turbulent Star, known also as the Reaper’s Eye, the Black Heart or the Hole in the Void. None have ever gotten close enough to learn the true nature the celestial phenomenon, or whether or not there is indeed a dark intelligence behind its presence.

Processional of the Damned

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